The written word is worthy of a thousand images: New KMAC exhibit features work inspired by Kentucky singers and authors

Artemesia: Mary Dennis Kannapell’s “Artemesia” was inspired by Wendell Berry’s “The Farm.”

Artemesia: Mary Dennis Kannapell’s “Artemesia” was inspired by Wendell Berry’s “The Farm.”

The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft turns the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” on its head with the upcoming show “Visions from Voices: Art Inspired by Kentucky Poetry, Prose and Songwriting.”
The initial conception was to have “artists inspiring other artists,” says KMAC curator and deputy director Brion Clinkingbeard, who says KMAC is always looking for exhibits that inspire artists in all mediums.

“Visions from Voices” began when he tried to think of how to get commercial artists more involved. He was soon looking into book cover art and interior illustrations, particularly work done by Canada’s Preston Letter Press and Louisville’s small-press publisher Sarabande. That got him interested in the people who make books, and soon the idea of Kentucky’s rich literary traditions inspiring visual artists was born.

The art in the KMAC show ranges from sculpture to painting to bookbinding — and even found-art pieces made from recycled material. The artists are from Kentucky and beyond — as far away as England — and the only guideline required that submissions be inspired by Kentucky prose. Clinkingbeard wisely asked for artists statements to go with their pieces so viewers can better understand the thought processes behind the creations.
Literature-based works penned by agrarians seem to be one of the underscored themes in the show. Mary Dennis Kannapell, of Prospect, created a large ceramics and fiber bust titled “Artemesia” after she read Wendell Berry’s “The Farm.” The green, androgynous subject, she says, “represents the relationship between the earth as a living organism and human evolution.”

Brighton, England artist Jackie Batey’s “Mortal Coil” was inspired by Robert Penn Warren’s poem “Mortal Limit.” Warren, another famous agrarian, was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1944-45 and won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel “All the King’s Men.” Batey’s book consists of photo collages from the south of England, he explains in his artist statement, with the colors fading throughout the pages from green to black and finally to red, “as the threat to the landscape is realized.”

Appalachian poet Judy Sizemore’s works were the theses for Kentucky artists Sarah Paulsen (of Burkesville), Pat Banks (Richmond) and Patricia Ritter (Kettle). Paulsen created a metal sculpture inspired by the poem “Anchored,” while Banks and Ritter painted watercolor landscapes instigated by Sizemore’s poetry, which often focuses on her adoration of her Kentucky home. Sizemore’s vast subject matter runs from trees and creeks to breast cancer and the connection of love.

Louisville artist Shayne Hull pays tribute to the Louisville band Bodeco, which he believes never quite got its indie-rock due back in the’90s. His piece, “Rattlesnakin’ Daddy,” is an engraving of images and lyrics that came to his mind as he listened to the music, he says in his artist statement. Bodeco frontman Ricky Feather plays a leopard-skin guitar in a bar, surrounded by a skull, two women in fishnet tights, empty beer bottles and cigarette butts, while cursive words frame the scene.

Crofton, Ky., folk artists Mike and Kelly Laster portray their heroine Loretta Lynn in “You’re Lookin’ At Country Cookin’.” Their colossal project is a medley of paint, tin, wood and found objects that they say was inspired by Loretta’s love of music and homemade dinners. An image of the piece doesn’t do it justice; up close, one can really see all the textures and even the glimmer of the pots and pans that act as satellites around a smiling Lynn, armed with her guitar.

“Visions from Voices” proves there are real muses who live and breathe (and write) among us. To pay homage to our Kentucky muses, readings are also scheduled, starting with Bobbie Ann Mason and Richard Taylor on July 5 during the opening reception from 5-7:30 p.m. Ed McClanahan is up on Aug. 16, followed by James Baker Hall and Wendell Berry on Sept. 20. All readings begin at 6 p.m. and feature more stimulants (live music and refreshments from Heine Brothers Coffee). Additional readings may be scheduled; check for updates.